Trusting My Sacred Scared

photo One of my favorite writers posted a new blog this week about being afraid in life and yet going for what we want anyway, just showing up. She talked about how if we all waited until we were all shiny and perfect and ready, we’d be waiting for eternity. No one is flawless, we’re all messy and complicated, she goes on to say. And if we could all start opening up and talking about what scares us the most, the thing we’re afraid to admit out loud because we’re scared it would make us unloveable, if we do this, we reveal our humanity to the world. When those around us see us taking off our armour, we hear them breathe an audible sigh of relief, and instead of living a life in fear, we can face them bravely together. Because, Love Wins.

I have so many fears. I wrote some of them out last summer in a post I titled: The Truth About Living Openly With Bipolar Disorder. I was scared to hit publish on that post, but I’m glad I did. Because people related to it. They saw me showing my messy, imperfect life and they got it because theirs is messy and imperfect, too.

Now, seven months later, those same fears are all still here, only now it seems as if they’ve multiplied like bacteria in a petri dish.

Lately it feels like not only am I worrying about whether I made the right decision, at the right time, to open up about living with a mental illness, I also worry about whether the show will be a smashing success or a big, fat flop. {I’m banking on the huge success, especially since I know some of the brilliant, talented individuals signed up for auditions, but still, the fear creeps into the back of my mind when I’m not having a confident day.} I’m scared that our petition to convert This Is My Brave, LLC to This Is My Brave - the Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit will fall through, and even if it does work out, how will I figure out the grant-writing process having never done it before and will I ever be able to make a living out of my passion for mental health advocacy work so that I can contribute financially to our family? I am also intimidated by hard-core activists who might say that what I’m doing with the show is just a song-and-dance and it will never make a difference to the state of mental health programs in our country.

Man, hitting publish on this one is going to be incredibly unnerving.

I hate that I have these fears. On a good day, they barely whisper. But on a day when I can’t catch a break, it’s as if they are taunting me just to see if they can get a rise out of me. They choke me and sometimes cause me to worry so much I'm paralyzed with fear and in turn, nothing gets done and I stress even more about my ability to pull this off.

The thing is, even though these fears remain, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I know in my heart that I’m doing the right thing with my life. The emails I receive from people who have been touched by my writing drive me to keep going. To keep putting one foot in front of the other and to keep tapping on my keyboard each week. And this show/non-profit organization/community of people who are supporting each other through living with a mental illness, they are my tribe, my flock. I want them to know that I love them just the way they are and that they make me feel less alone and I hope I do the same for them. We’re all in this together and it feels so much better than the loneliness of hiding from what we’re afraid of.

Do you know the biggest lesson I’ve learned through this process of being scared and vulnerable and talking about my fears and my messy life openly? I’ve learned to trust my gut. That place in the middle which you can only sense when you’re super quiet and listening really, really closely, with intention to find purpose. I can feel it in my bones that I’m meant to do this and it brings me peace, no matter how loud my fears are on a particular day.

I’ve experienced what I have because I was meant to come out on the other side so that others can find hope. I truly believe this. So what if I have no idea what I’m doing? So what if I make mistakes along the way? These days I’m able to find comfort in the fact that I’m trusting the world with my messy, beautiful life.

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Our Love Survives Mental Illness

View More: http://staceywindsor.pass.us/marshall_familyPhoto Credit: Stacey Windsor Photography

When I got married at the age of twenty-four, I never imagined I’d be looking back at our past ten years of marriage with the realization that our love has survived mental illness.

But the reality of mental illness is that it doesn't discriminate. Like cancer, it strikes without warning. Like cancer, it’s life-changing. Like cancer, it tests the strength of the important relationships in your world. It's ruthless and heartless, and at times I felt as though I were drowning and I'd never come up for air.

I met my husband when I was nineteen years old. We dated throughout college, even though we attended universities two hours apart. Long-distance wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was doable. Both of us had cars, and the drive wasn’t that bad. Each weekend one would drive to be with the other and when we graduated, we couldn’t wait to live in the same city. It wasn’t long before we were engaged and ready to make it official after having been a couple for four years.

He proposed early one morning, kneeling by my bedside at six in the morning, while I tried to force myself to wake up so I could memorize what he said, the look in his eyes, the magic of the moment. He whisked me away to the Bahamas for the weekend, my fairytale proposal. I remembered thinking at the time, “What did I do to deserve a man like this?” It all just seemed too good to be true.

He chose a beautiful, smart, driven, fun-loving fiance as the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He chose me. He didn’t choose mental illness.

He never signed up for this.

Our wedding was perfection, from the good-luck rain which fell as my dad and I ran from our limo into the church where he was waiting for me at the altar, to the dinner and dancing with our friends and family to the luxury hotel room where we peeled off our wedding attire at the end of the night. I took mental pictures throughout the night so as not to forget any detail. It was everything I had dreamed it would be. Only better.

I never imagined two years later I’d be blindsided with a manic episode so severe that four months later I’d be forced to quit the career I had worked tirelessly to develop.

Through it all, my husband’s love never wavered. Even though what happened to me terrified him more than it did me - in the moment I couldn’t comprehend what was going on - he didn’t flinch. Instead, he took control of the situation and made the call for help.

I can still recall the authority in his voice, the strength in his embrace as he tried to coax me to the car so he could drive me to the hospital, and the way he spoke with the EMT’s and police officers with respect and appreciation for their help as they arrived at our house to take me to the psych ward.

He’s been by my side, holding my hand, each and every time mania has overtaken my mind. His arms never tired from hugging me close, his thumbs wiped countless tears from my cheeks so that he could kiss me gently to encourage me to keep my chin up. We took things one day at a time and eventually I found my path to recovery.

But I don’t know how I would have found my way if he wouldn’t have been there to walk with me.

My brother has said before that he couldn't have hand-picked a better husband for me. I couldn't agree more. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have ended up with such a supportive, loving, dedicated man.

“In sickness and in health…” hit us a little sooner than we had anticipated. On this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate how my husband was able to be the light during my storm. Our love was tested and thankfully we made it through, and continue to weather the storm, with flying colors.

 Happy Valentine's Day, honey. I love you with all my heart. xoxo

Letting Go of the Secret

1638001945_6d2fc78977Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc

Living a life with an ever-present fear of revealing a certain secret part of yourself isn’t truly living. I know, because I’ve been there. Being caught up in an inauthentic version of myself wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life. And so I made some changes. The results were incredible.

At twenty-six years old, newly married and at the peak of my career as an agency recruiter, I was hit with mania. It came without warning, and felt exactly the same as slipping on black ice and landing flat on my back, the wind sucked out of my lungs and a searing pain pulsing through my bones. I was terrified of what was happening in my brain. I had lost control of everything and my career and reputation were on the line, not to mention my relationship with my husband who didn’t see this coming.

How would I ever recover from this mess?

I would, although recovery eluded me several times. Following my diagnosis, I spent a full year in what felt like an extended visit to a deserted island: the isle of depression. It seemed like no one could possibly understand what I was feeling. I fought waves of anxiety each morning, and would calm myself down from my afternoon anxiety by collapsing on the couch in front of the television, tears soaking the oversized pillow which my head rested on.

I saw many doctors, so many that I can’t remember most of their names. My parents pushed for second, third, fourth opinions. Not because they didn’t trust the doctor’s opinions, but because we hadn’t figured out what would bring me back to my baseline. My normal. Finally, after seeing one of the top doctors in our area, a national specialist in the study of bipolar disorder, I was ready to follow his advice, the same medication recommendation that the previous few psychiatrists had been urging me to try.

Within two months I felt better than I had felt in an entire year. Slivers of my old personality were coming back. When I laughed, it felt genuine and amazing, better than it had felt even before I became sick. When several weeks had passed and I realized I hadn’t cried, I was shocked. The drug was actually working for me.

There would be two more hospitalizations in the years that followed, only because I had taken myself off my medication during pregnancy to protect my kids. When my daughter was only 8 months old, I decided I was ready to tell my story in order to help other women who might think they couldn’t have a family because of their mental illness. I launched my blog and began writing, but kept my identity a secret because I feared the repercussions of the stigma associated with mental illness.

I kept writing and sharing my experience as a mom raising two small kids while at the same time managing my bipolar disorder and over the next year and a half, I realized that keeping my identity a secret was only adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was a part of my life and I wanted to show society that I’m a real person with real emotions and I believe that people who live with mental illness should be treated like any other person living with any other life-long disease. We didn’t ask for these conditions we were dealt, and the last thing we need is for society to look the other way when we’re suffering and need support to find recovery.

I was no longer ashamed.

And so in April of 2013, I announced on my blog that I was “ready to not be anonymous anymore,” and I took a brave stand against stigma. The support that poured in from my family and friends, and people I didn’t even know but who had read my post, was overwhelming. The words of gratitude for sharing my story so courageously were like fuel to me, as I kept writing about my experiences and connecting with people who appreciated my transparency.

Six months ago I launched a project and couldn’t have imagined the response it has generated. This Is My Brave is a live theater production where people from the community will take turns at the microphone to share their story on stage via personal essays, original music and slam poetry. This Is My Brave is more than just a one-time performance. We have become a platform and a community for people living with mental illness to speak out in an effort to end the stigma associated with brain illnesses.

Our mission is to ignite and actively promote―through actions and social media― a positive, supportive national conversation about mental illness for those who live with, or love someone who lives with, a brain illness. Through the sharing of stories and experiences of those in recovery, we expect to provide a sense of community and hope; encouraging others to share their stories. We believe that each time one of us talks openly about living with mental illness, we create another crack which helps to break down the stigma. We’re currently in the process of converting to a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and have been actively planning the pursuit of our mission beyond the debut of This Is My Brave in Arlington on May 18th.

It’s time we bring mental health issues into the spotlight because they’ve been in the dark too long. Please visit www.thisismybrave.com to learn more about the show. Auditions are currently being scheduled (www.thisismybrave.com/auditions) and tickets to attend the show are on sale now at EventBrite.com.

Follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news!

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The Year I Learned to Jump

Year-Learned-JumpPhoto Credit: Jimbo N via Compfight cc

“ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID TO DO.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the midst of my intense wrestling match with bipolar disorder, right smack in the middle of the chaos of a frazzled mind and rattled sense of self-worth, I somehow knew one day I’d take the type of jump where there's no looking back once you launch yourself into the air.

I knew I’d face my fear.

Today, in these moments when I type here in my makeshift office and upload my words to this space which has become my launching pad for jumping off my cliff of fear, I’m opening up. Putting it all out there, no longer the only one bearing the weight the vivid flashbacks from the brunt of my struggle. I say not the only one because inevitably after I hit publish someone will respond with a “me too."

As 2013 comes to a close, I’m in the thrilling moments, body tingling from the pull of gravity after the big leap. The seconds are precious and they’re swiftly racing by like seconds on the New Year’s count-down clock, but I’m not bracing for the impact. Instead, I’m preparing to feel my toes slice through the surface of the water. {I prefer to jump in feet-first.}

Because in my dream about facing my fear, I’m on a huge cliff in Maui overlooking the deep blue ocean. Why not, right? It’s a dream.

I crave the feeling of weightlessness that comes from the adrenaline rush coursing through my body in mid-air. And I’m grabbing onto each and every one of those seconds as they fly by.

 

Resisting the urge to open up about my journey is almost impossible. At various times in my day-to-day activities, scenes from my first hospitalization in 2005 bubble to the surface of my memory. Or my second stint in the mental hospital. Or the third and fourth which sometimes confuse me with their shorter, more intense flashbacks. They were the times I was protecting my babies. Plus, they say the more you experience mania the less you remember. Makes sense to me now.

When mania took hold of my mind for the first time and spiraled out of control into psychosis, I spent three nights in a psych ward. Returning to the office the following Monday, I was able to gloss over my absence and say the doctor’s attributed my strange behavior to the lack of sleep and stress I was under at work. No one knew the real truth, although I’m sure there were plenty of rumors and assumptions flying while folks gathered around the water cooler on Monday morning.

I’m certain scenarios like the one I experienced happen every single day. Someone is absent from school or work for a few days or a few months and people start talking. And everything is hush, hush. Because societal norms tell us talking about mental illness isn’t the same as talking about someone who is battling cancer or severe asthma or a broken arm.

Well I have news for you: It's time we shatter those "norms."

And those of us who have fought these fights and who are still trudging through the pain and desperation and isolation that is mental illness could use the same support systems that other sick people receive.

More important to us than the flowers, cards, and meals you might send is simply your willingness to listen. To look us in the eyes and accept us for what we’ve been through, where we are right now, and what we will face each and every day and night for the rest of our lives.

Don’t be afraid to know our stories. We’re facing our fears, and we want you to, too.

Be open to us opening up. Give us hugs when we cry. Send us a laugh when you notice we’re down. If we’re too hyper, gently check in and ask if everything is on track with our treatment plan. It feels good to be acknowledged and cared for by those we love.

I have several close friends who do all these things and more and they make all the difference in the world. And of course my husband who is my better half, my voice of reason and the peace to the storm of what is inside me always knows when to step in with the right words to soothe me and keep me centered.

 

I will remember 2013 as the year I took the greatest leap I’ve ever taken. The year I jumped forward with sharing my words. The year I chose to only look back on the past in order to shift the future into better focus.

The year I did what I was afraid to do. And I haven’t even pierced the surface yet.

Ever been snorkeling, or better yet, scuba diving? {My husband is obsessed with snorkeling. He’s spent hours bobbing on the surface of the various tropical waters we’ve traveled to. I think it's cute.} He knows there are treasures down there. Which is why I’m so excited for my plunge into 2014 with This Is My Brave.

But first I’m looking forward to tomorrow. We're ringing in the New Year with my oldest girlfriends and their adorable kids and fun-loving husbands. It’s the 2nd annual #RomperRoomNYE2013 bash (follow along on Instagram!) and with 8 kiddos plus a 2-month old, the adults will be lucky to make it to the ball drop when we'll clink our champagne glasses with a toast to 2013 and what lies ahead in 2014.

My salute to this past year is composed of heartfelt gratitude for the support of This Is My Brave and our mission to encourage people to talk openly and often about mental health issues in their communities. The year ahead will no doubt be filled with learning experiences as I navigate unknown territories, but I am eager to grow and evolve, to bring these crucial conversations about mental illness into the spotlight.

Twenty-thirteen was the year I learned that facing my fears means enjoying the jump.

 

Why I Write

Why-I-WritePhoto Credit: dawolf- via Compfight cc

I write to show the world the invisible parts of me.

I write because people need to know what mental illness looks like. It looks like me. A young mom of two feisty preschoolers with a loving husband by her side.

I write because it’s too hard for him to talk about the four times his wife slept so little her brain was buzzing out of control and he had to sign the papers. Talk with police officers. Visit the psych ward. Hold down the fort while I got well.

I write because my kids are too young to understand what their mommy experienced before they were born, when they were little. And I want them to know all of it. I’m hopeful they’ll wrap their arms around me with pride and love when they read all I’ve written.

I write because I want to make a difference. I’m over the old-school philosophy of “some things are better left unsaid.”

Said who?

The truth is, when things go unsaid, that’s when tragedies happen.

I write because I’m almost 35 and no one ever knows how much time is left. I don’t want to regret not speaking out. I want my story heard.

I write because although I’ve found the courage to disclose my illness, so many others are still suffocated by their conditions. They may be feeling defeated by the mental illness they’re battling. And they’re not quite ready to talk or write.

But once they push past the anger, the fear, the disbelief and the shame that their illness dropped onto their shoulders, there will be plenty of time for a coming out party.

They’ll combine voices to put the power of unity behind the message, take a look around and communicate how good it feels to have this weight lifted off their shoulders. A weight that never should have grown there in the first place.

I write because I found my purpose. I write to help others find their brave.

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My book is now a Snippet! To read my short e-book entitled Find Your Brave {a manifesto}, click HERE to download Snippet in the Apple store. It’s the fun, new interactive way to read quick, engaging e-books.

So long, self-doubt

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Why does self-doubt seem to know exactly when to punch you in the gut and knock the breath out of your chest so fiercely that you wonder if what you’re doing with your life is even making an impact?

A month ago I took the greatest risk of my life thus far by launching our Kickstarter for This Is My Brave, and it went above and beyond my wildest expectations. I thought to myself, “Yeah. $6,500 in 31 days is a lofty goal, but I’m fairly confident we’ll get there.”

The love and support that poured out from our friends and family and people who we hadn’t even met in the form of donations and words of encouragement was both overwhelming and exhilarating.

There are so many people who are just as passionate as we are about spreading messages of hope and inspiration while at the same time silencing the stigma surrounding mental illness. We raised over $10,000 for our show’s mission and I felt like we were on top of the world.

But the emotional high I was surfing on came crashing down like a monster wave when the news of the Deeds' family tragedy broke on Tuesday morning. The weight of the story was like a 50-pound brick on my heart. It was all I could think about. I wanted to scream “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED!” to every person I ran into in my daily comings and goings all week.

And then I met someone who understood.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you meet someone new and you can tell after talking with her for five minutes that she just "gets" you and although you were strangers six minutes earlier, it feels as if you've known her for ten years?

It happened to me on Thursday and was the highlight of my day. Once I got my baby girl down for a late nap, I immediately took pen to paper. A piece of me still wants to prove to my mom that she was wrong. That I've received nothing but overwhelmingly positive support for opening up about living with mental illness, especially from the moms at my son's preschool. The very group she thought might shun me. Back then my mom didn't realize that by keeping quiet about what I was going through she was actually adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. We were all so new to it eight years ago. And I don't blame her for wanting to protect me. She's my mom, and moms don’t ever want anyone to hurt their babies.

We've come a long way since then and both of my parents {and my in-laws} are very supportive of the advocacy work I'm doing now.

This sweet mom whose daughter has been in my son's class all fall, yet I only met this week. She said something to me as we were chasing our toddlers out the door after dropping off our two older kids in front of their classroom. And I know will stick with me forever.

"You must feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you're doing and how many people you're impacting with This Is My Brave."

And do you know what my response was? Of course I later thanked her for her kind words, but my immediate response was, "I feel like I'm not doing enough."

Part of me felt compelled to blog about the self-doubt that crept into my bones this week to remind myself that what I'm doing with This Is My Brave is pretty spectacular. Even though in the wake of the news out of Virginia this week I feel like it's only a teeny sliver of hope. A faint glimmer of the desire to improve the way society and our government deals with mental illness.

 At least it's a start.

We talked for an hour while our 3-yr-olds ran around and explored every corner of the playground. I could have talked with her for the entire rest of the afternoon. But alas, the temperature won out and after running around with no coat on, baby girl was adequately frozen and ready to call it quits. I gave my new friend a hug as we said goodbye and I'm already looking forward to our next impromptu playdate with our littles.

While driving home my thoughts drifted to how the sky looked similar to the way it did in late October of 2008 when I was released from my week-long stay in the hospital after having experienced postpartum psychosis. My heart aches for the Deeds family because they weren't able to get the medical attention and treatment that their son so desperately needed. They should have been visiting him in the psychiatric unit of the hospital today, but instead they are planning his funeral.

This isn't right.

We need the laws changed so that we can protect these individuals from themselves and others when they are so ill. And we need nets, as my friend Glennon so vividly described in this post. We need so many nets.

This Is My Brave is my effort to create a net.

And although I know that I want my next step to be petitioning our government for changes to our mental health system, my focus right now is on this show, my heartfelt contribution to changing the way people feel about mental illness.

And hopefully, in turn, it will inspire people to come together and create actions which will facilitate the change we so desperately need.

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The Stretch of This Is My Brave

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Eight years ago this Christmas my life changed forever. I didn't realize it at the time, nor did my family and friends, but it was a beginning of a new chapter. After the shock of it all, there were tears, there was the grieving of the life I left behind, and there was a whole lot of learning ahead of us.

I've always been a writer, this I knew. But never did I think that writing would be the one thing that would help me recover from a mental illness. It would be through writing that I would find my brave.

My blog began as an anonymous online place for me to write about what it was like to be a mom living with bipolar disorder. I found my voice as a mental health advocate only six months ago and I’m now in the midst of catapulting stories of inspiration and hope from people who live with mental illness into the spotlight to change society’s perception of mental illness. It’s a little project called This Is My Brave.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” - Maya Angelou

 

At thirty-four, I reached a point in my life where I didn’t want to regret not sharing my story. From vivid descriptions of my periods of extreme mania to the crushing reality of not being able to get out of bed during my year-long battle with depression and anxiety when I was first diagnosed, these stories were pacing my brain as if they were caged animals, desperate to be let out. And so my blog became a place where I released those memories of my story for whoever was on the other side of the Internet to read. My hope was that they found comfort in knowing they weren’t alone.

Talking about my illness and the struggles I had to overcome to get where I am today has not only been therapeutic, it’s also shown me that people are listening. People trust me to read their stories sent through emails which describe the pain and anguish they’re going through.

Then they thank me for my honesty and my ability to speak out for them since they’re not ready or able to:

"Thank you again for your blog and being brave enough to speak up about your experiences. I don't have many opportunities to talk about it in my daily life and interactions with other people.  It's just not something that comes up in casual conversation, but it is constantly on my mind." - S.H. via email

“Thank you for all that you do to advocate for mental illness. You are truly a brave and strong role model to me, as I'm nowhere near the level of acceptance or balance that you are. Anyway, I just wanted to send you my thanks and cheer you on.” - C.K. via email

"I'm in a unique position in that we recently moved here and I haven't known my friends here that long. Given all the misunderstandings out there about bipolar disorder, it is hard to know if they will get it or be afraid. I'm sure you understand. Hopefully, gradually, I can open up in a way that will educate them and not scare them. That's the challenge, isn't it? That's why we need a movement as you say!" - L.C. via email

Becoming an advocate and starting up this show is having an impact on people. People I haven't even met yet, but hope to someday. And it's not only people who find my blog via a random Google search who write to me, it's also friends of friends who stop me during my day-to-day activities to say, "Hey, what you're doing is really cool." And it's the texts and calls from my close friends who are telling me how proud they are of me.

I can't tell you how good that all makes me feel.

But this show isn't just about my story. This theater experience will be a wake-up call to everyone out there. It's a chance for those of us who know what it feels like to live with mental illness to open up and not be ashamed.

By coming together, we build strength by our numbers. And when we find the courage to share our stories, we propel a movement forward.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share, who inspires others to share, which in turn inspires the world to change.

This past Sunday, our Kickstarter project for This Is My Brave reached its funding goal of $6,500. Because we recognize how important this show is to so many people, we've set a stretch goal of $10,000 and we now have 8 days left to reach it. With the additional funding we'll be able to extend our reach beyond just the one show. We'll be able to take our stories of hope and inspiration further. But we can only do it with your help.

Thank you so much to our incredible backers who have pledged and shared and supported us so graciously along this journey. With a week and a day left, we're hoping to reach further with the help of those who believe in this vision.

Click HERE to view our project on Kickstarter and share the info with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you so much for your support!

Staying Brave During the Holidays

I met Pauline Campos through social media. Her tweets are funny, outrageous, smart, and inspirational. She is a columnist for Latina Magazine, authors her own blog - AspiringMama.com, and the Founder of GirlBodyPride.com, a blog dedicated to helping women to grow strong in mind before all else. She lives with ADHD and works to help eliminate the stigma surrounding all types of mental illness through her writing and her outreach.

I love this about Pauline: "But when it all comes down to it, I’m a mom trying to reach out to other moms." {quoted from the Platform page of AspiringMama.com}

Pauline did just that, and offered to make a video clip for Anne Marie and I on why she believe in our show, This Is My Brave and the Kickstarter we're currently running. She spoke on our Update video and also pledged a generous donation to our project. We couldn't thank her enough for her support. But she didn't stop there.

Pauline accepted a guest post I wrote for her blog, GirlBodyPride, and it went live today. Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story and our project on your blog today, Pauline! Your support for This Is My Brave is beautiful and so appreciated.

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The holidays are coming up and for me this time of year is always bittersweet. The end of October marks the anniversary of my postpartum psychosis experience. Leaves changing to shades of yellow, orange and red, combined with the smell of real wood-burning fireplaces in our neighborhood on a chilly night can take me right back to that place of fear and disbelief buried deep within my memory.

Why me? Why did it have to happen to me?

I try to focus on the excitement of my kids deciding what they want to dress up as for Halloween and the carving of our pumpkins, turning them into...{to read the rest of the post, please click over to GirlBodyPride. Thanks so much for reading and Happy Halloween!}

My {In}voluntary Commitment and Why You Should Care

3503612082_da5ca41899Photo Credit: yyellowbird via Compfight cc

Our bedroom door creaked slowly open at 6:35am this morning and my little man crawled under the covers next to me while my husband finished getting dressed for work. As I felt the chill of little toes brush my warm legs, I thought back to this same day, five years ago, when my mania had reached the breaking point.

I had begun to cross the threshold, going from highly manic to the inevitable psychosis, when my husband took matters into his own hands and called 911 for help.

What a stark comparison to today, I thought, as I reached into my sock drawer to fish out my psych ward socks. I pulled them on this morning as a way of honoring my past, while at the same time recognizing how far I’ve come and how I don’t ever want to go back.

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If your father were having a heart attack, or symptoms consistent with those of a heart attack, you would rush him to the hospital where he would receive treatment. If your child had a 104 fever and was gravely ill but refused to take any medicine, you would call your pediatrician who would tell you to rush the child to the Emergency Room where he would receive medical assistance.

But if someone you loved were experiencing a mental health crisis and needed to see a psychiatrist or be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility to receive treatment, you wouldn’t believe the obstacles you have to surpass in order to get them the care they need to get well.

I know, because my family and I plunged head first into these roadblocks in the U.S. mental healthcare system five years ago when I was hospitalized for postpartum psychosis after the birth of my first child in 2008. Writing about this experience was something I wanted to do in order to educate people about the policies surrounding access to mental health care in the state of Virginia. {The laws vary by state. A good resource with links to studies and comprehensive information is MentalIllnessPolicy.org.}

In researching my mental illness and the treatment I received during my hospitalization, I requested copies my medical records from the hospital. I’d like to take you back to the week of October 22nd, 2008, approximately four weeks after I had given birth to my son. Belly still swollen, breasts leaking milk, I lost touch with reality during the early hours of that cool fall morning, but remained silent about my growing sense that this would be my last day on earth.

I was terrified of being taken away from my baby even though there was a little voice in the far corner of my mind urging me to go. I just didn’t want to listen.

That morning my husband knew from my past two manic episodes that I needed to be taken to the hospital. He called his mom and sister to come over and help, as we had been through this before and he knew my erratic manic behavior would require more than one person assisting in the effort to get me ready to be transferred. His next call was to dial 911, where he explained to the dispatcher that I had a bipolar diagnosis, was off my meds because of having just had a baby, and was now rapidly deteriorating and we were in need of help to get me to the hospital. He then called my psychiatrist, leaving her a message to tell her what was going on. And lastly he called my parents in Florida to alert them as well.

I remember being on the phone with my Dad while sitting on a chair in the kitchen, talking to him on speaker phone while the two female police officers who had been dispatched to our house were standing right before me. He was pleading with me to go with them. I don’t recall much, other than being afraid. I don’t know exactly how much time passed, but eventually they were able to take me, in handcuffs, under a Temporary Detention Order (TDO), to our local hospital for an evaluation.

I was clearly manic to the point of psychotic. It was well documented in the detention order paperwork that I had reported hearing voices and seeing ghosts in the baby’s room. My husband had told the officers that I had only slept 3-4 hours a night for the four nights leading up to his call for help. His sleep estimates were correct - it had been the weekend of our son’s baptism and I was trying to prepare for out-of-town guests along with getting everything ready for the party we were hosting. On top of learning to care for our new baby and suppressing the mania that I had felt since the night he had been born, it all caught up to me.

The Temporary Detention Order allowed my husband to have me sent to the hospital for an assessment. My husband was my Petitioner - the person asking that I be involuntarily committed. We were led to an empty hospital room where I was handcuffed to the metal bars of the hospital bed. My husband stayed by my side the entire time. The nurses assessed me and it was determined that there was substantial likelihood that, as a result of my mental illness, in the near future I would suffer serious harm due to a lack of capacity to protect myself from harm. I refused all meds in the Emergency room and I met the criteria for involuntary admission to a psychiatric ward of the hospital, not to exceed a 30-day stay.

I was taken by police car, still handcuffed, to our local hospital’s geriatric psychiatric ward, the nearest facility with a bed available. By the time the bed had become available, it was late at night and I remember being terrified upon entering the facility because of the Halloween decorations festively decorating the glass doors which were pulled open for me. My throat closed and I struggled to breathe, leaning all my weight back, attempting to keep them from guiding me in. They eventually coaxed me in and a young attendant began working with me to get me through the intake process. I remember her arms, covered with tattoos. Her name was Jenny.

They tried to give me drugs to force me to sleep, but my mania was so rampant and I continued to refuse oral medication, so I was given an injection to tranquilize me and my body succumbed to the rest it so desperately needed. I woke groggy, and still very ill.

The Temporary Detention Order meant I could be held involuntarily for one to five days, until a commitment hearing could be held. I was admitted the night of October 22nd, and my commitment hearing was scheduled for 9am on the 24th.

After only thirty-six hours of psychiatric care, I was still extremely sick and my mania was apparent to everyone close to me. But the chemical imbalance that was still working itself back to balanced with the help of the meds and forced rest, wasn’t severe enough to present me as a threat to myself or others during the trial, and despite my family’s strong arguments that I was not well enough to go home and care for myself, let alone a newborn, the judge still deemed me well enough to not be held against my will.

I was free to go home. Case dismissed.

My father spoke with the judge immediately following the trial’s conclusion. He was shocked and couldn’t believe the judge was going to send me home in the condition I was in. My father then asked if they (my family) were able to convince me to stay in the hospital, voluntarily, would I be able to stay?

The judge informed him that yes, I would of course be able to stay on a voluntary basis, but on the same token, I’d be able to sign myself out at any time.

This news was plenty good enough for my family and they immediately began encouraging me to stay and rest, so that I’d be able to return to my newborn baby in a much clearer state of mind. They knew that with just a few more days of treatment and solid sleep, I’d be in a significantly better place to where I could continue to see my outside psychiatrist and work on making a full recovery.

Fortunately, I was well enough to rationalize their concern for me and that was all it took to convince me to sign myself in. I stayed for three more days. My husband and dad came to visit me every day to check on my progress. They used my somewhat still disoriented state to their advantage as they were able to remind me each day that “we all needed to be in agreement that it was the right time for me to go home,” and I was too fragile mentally to process what had happened in the hearing so I followed their lead. I had signed myself in to stay and could leave when I was ready, but I didn’t really comprehend it all at the time.

I called home daily to check on my baby and asked them to bring pictures to the hospital. He changed so much in that week that I missed. His wispy brown hair on top fell out, so he had a bald head with only hair on the sides and around to the back. I cried at a picture they brought me of him smiling on his back laying on a blue and green striped baby blanket. Desperate to get back to my son, I eagerly took my meds each day and night, and did my best to be a model patient.

I signed myself out of the hospital on the 27th, after a 5-day stay, and walked into the kitchen of my house where my mom was stirring a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup cooking on the stove. I made my son a bottle of formula and sat on the couch to learn the art of bottle feeding him after having spent a month perfecting breastfeeding. I will never forget that moment. While feeding him and gazing into his eyes I silently vowed that I would do everything in my power to stay healthy for him. I never wanted to be taken away from him again.

Some people might say that involuntary commitment laws take away a person’s constitutional right to freedom. I completely disagree.

My family sought help for me because they knew I was so severely ill. The system initially determined I was a threat to myself, but the judge at the commitment hearing determined that was no longer the case. Situations like this happen all the time due to the current state of our mental health system and unfortunately, these holes in the system are what contribute to tragedies like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook or the Navy Yard shootings. It’s the subjective “threat to themselves or others” which is determined by someone who has never met the mentally ill person, which is what needs to change.

People who are aware of family or friends who have mental health issues (and we all know someone given the statistic of 1 in 4 Americans living with a mental illness) need to be more proactive when they sense a change in someone’s behavior. By paying attention to the fragile mental states of people within our own environments, we will be able to push for help before it’s too late. The mental health laws need to be reviewed and modified to permit family and friends to have the ability to have people in trouble involuntarily committed for longer periods of time, so they are better able to make bigger strides towards recovery during the time in which they are under the hospital's psychiatric care. Until this done, we will continue to see more tragedies.

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On this fifth anniversary of my TDO and subsequent voluntary psychiatric commitment, I’m able to smile at my son’s insistence on dressing up as a ghost for Halloween. Five years ago I was not taking my medication and therefore went through hell, reportedly saw ghosts, and thought the world was coming to an end. But today I’m cutting eye holes out of a white sheet to dress my little man up on the last day of this month. A costume which serves as a gentle reminder of my past, while allowing me to appreciate the invisible challenges which inevitably lie ahead.

#ForMiriam I Advocate: World Mental Health Day

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When I think of what happened in DC last week, I keep coming back to the same feelings of anger, frustration and sadness.

Her life shouldn’t have ended that way.

There is something called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training, which is a training program developed in a number of U.S. states to help police officers react appropriately to situations involving mental illness or developmental delay. The Washington, DC chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness has a page on their website describing the District’s Crisis Intervention Officer Program, as having "had 5 graduated classes of officers so far, as well as new recruit trainings."

I can’t help but wonder if the officer {or officers} who pulled the trigger had gone through CIT training.

If they had, or maybe had remembered the training during the incident, maybe the outcome would have been different.

Maybe not.

The only good thing that can happen as a result of this tragedy is advocacy in Miriam’s memory.

Advocacy to prevent something like this from happening again.

We can speak out. People like myself, who have experienced the hell of an inexplicable train of discombobulated and paranoid thoughts running through our heads. The hallucinations that come and go as fast as the minutes flying by on the clock next to the bed. The feeling that we’re invincible and don’t need sleep.

I've been there and I will continue to speak out about my experience in an effort to raise awareness for the signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis. Because if even one person is helped through my writing, than it is worth all the effort.

Just because I experienced postpartum psychosis doesn’t make me a bad mother. It doesn’t make me a monster. It is an illness and my brain was sick. The important thing is that I got well and I made it through with treatment and support. I'm now able to help others by my work as an advocate.

And Miriam should have had that same chance.

But instead her friends and family are left to mourn this beautiful person who touched their lives and left behind is a constant reminder of her legacy, her baby girl.

It is my hope that once the darkness of their grief begins to dissipate, however far in the future that may be, the family will assume the role of advocate in their dear Miriam’s honor.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. - Maya Angelou

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